Towers Falling

towersfallingby Jewell Parker Rhodes
First sentence: “Pop groans.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: July 12. 2016
Content: It’s simple enough that the younger set can understand it but complex enough that it won’t bore the older kids. It’ll be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Deja is starting over at a new school, but not by choice. Her family was evicted from their home in Brooklyn, and they’ve moved into a homeless shelter closer to Manhattan. It’s not a happy situation; her father suffers from headaches and can’t hold down a job, and her mother — an immigrant from Jamaica — can only work so many hours.

So, when Deja’s new school starts studying the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11, Deja wonders what on earth it has to do with her. But, as the weeks and months go on — and she learns more about the attacks that happened before she was born — she and her friends Ben and Sabeen learn that no one is unaffected by history.

Rhodes is doing a couple of things here: first, she’s telling the story of the towers falling for kids who may not know anything about it. Sure, it’s not super distant history, but there are still kids who aren’t really familiar with it. And I’m not sure how much it’s being taught in schools (C got it a lot, A got a lesson or two in 5th grade, and I’m not sure anyone at school has brought it up for K) anymore. So, there definitely is a need for a reminder. But, Rhodes has gone bigger than just “hey kids, this happened” history. She’s encompassing issues of kids being homeless, of religious tolerance (Sabeen is Muslim, and she and her family face discrimination because of that), of diversity. She strikes a nice balance in the book between teaching the kids and preaching to them, and  manages to be diverse and moral-centric without being didactic and moralistic.

It’s definitely a book worth checking out.

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See How They Run

seehowtheyrunby Ally Carter
First sentence: “I don’t know where I am.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: All Fall Down
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some deaths, off screen, some mild swearing, and a lot of intense moments. It’s in the YA (grades 6-8) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

The last thing Grace remembers was finding out that she killed her mother (by accident, but still), and then her grandfather’s chief of staff shot the Adrian prime minister (who is currently in a coma). What she’s being told, however is that the prime minister had a devastating heart attack, so Grace is still questioning her sanity. That and said chief of staff happens to be part of a secret 300-year-old organization of librarians who also happen to be assassins. Oh, and Grace’s mother was part of that society as well.

To make things worse, her brother Jamie shows up with a friend in tow, and after a party on a nearby island, said friend turns up… dead. The person being targeted is the son of the Russian ambassador (obviously) and Grace’s almost love-interest, Alexei. And Grace is determined to prove what she knows: Alexei’s innocent.

While this is a darker turn for Carter, it’s still very much her fun, engaging writing. I adored the chemistry between the characters (though I ship Grace and Noah, but that’s just me. I need more Noah in these books.), and the twists and turns kept me turning pages. While it was predictable at times (yeah, I figured something bad would happen to the new guy who just showed up and was a bit of a jerk) I never felt bored by it at all. I loved the intrigue, the history and mythology Carter is weaving around her invented country.

That said, I did want more of the assassin-librarian group, and Grace and her PTSD were often annoying. But, I was able to look past the second one, especially as the book wore on and Grace became less fraught with emotion and more invested in proving Alexei’s innocence.

In short, it’s a good, solid series and I’m curious to see where it goes from here.

Mockingjay

by Suzanne Collins
ages: 14+
First sentence: “I stare down at my shoes, watching as a fine layer of ash settles on the worn leather.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there! (Though you probably already have.)

NO SPOILERS. Promise.

Like Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this book is very unputdownable. Thankfully, I set aside the day to sit and read, otherwise I’d have been biting my nails and obsessing over the book. Better to get it all over with in one sitting.

And, for the most part, I really really liked the book. I liked what Collins did with Katniss, and the rebellion, and Gale, and especially Peeta. I liked the direction Collins was taking the books, the whole Katniss-as-Mockingjay thing. There were touching moments, some kick-butt moments, she kept me guessing as to where the plot was going, and she generally laid foundation work for something absolutely incredible to happen. There’s a lot of good anti-war stuff in there, how rebellions don’t always work right, how killing ourselves isn’t always the answer.

There are some things I wished she would have done: I missed Cinna, I wished Haymitch had more to do, I wished she had done something more with the District 13 government. Those were minor quibbles, though.

Because, the book fell apart for me. Completely and totally by the last 45 pages. There’s a moment near the end — and if you’ve read the book, you know where it is — where I was on the edge of my seat, disbelieving. However, in the pages that followed, Collins made choices — with characters, with the plot, with narrative — that completely derailed the rest of the book. It would have been so much better if… but it wasn’t. The whole ending was anticlimactic, and took the book in a direction that felt forced. I ended up feeling dissatisfied with the whole book, in the end. I’m not sure what I wanted, really, but it wasn’t the ending that Collins gave me.

Which, unfortunately, left me with a less-than-stellar reaction to the book overall. (And am I the only one?) And that’s too bad. Because it’s a great series: thought provoking and intense. I just wanted something better to end with.